Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prison Ships: An Idea Whose Time Has Come. Again.

An article in today's SHT outlines the struggle involved in finding a suitable location for a new lockup. It seems as though every citizen of Sarasota County has an idea of where it should be built. And that would be anywhere that doesn't affect them.

That being said, the answer is clear: prison ships. Used by civilizations for centuries, they are still in use today. In 1997, Britain launched the prison ship, HMP Weare, to ease overcrowding. New York City's Riker Island Prison is supplemented by a prison barge called the Vernon Bain Correctional Center. So, see, it's not like we would be doing anything new or innovative, as those two concepts are an anathema to Sarasota government.

Now that cruise ships are getting larger, I just bet Sarasota County could pick up an older, retired one for cheap, tow it to the bay, load that baby up with convicts and push out to sea. Once they're a couple miles out so the tourists can't tell what it is, drop anchor and you're done.

Already outfitted with all the amenities--living quarters about the size of the average cell (just replace the doors with iron bars), commercial kitchens, large dining rooms, medical facilities--they have been described as "floating cities." This application would take that concept one step further to "floating cities, only with convicts on board."

No complaints from citizens that they have a jail in their backyard, no exorbitant construction costs, virtually escape proof and we could probably cut the wages of the correction facilities staff. Who wouldn't want to spend their workday lazing about the promenade deck, gazing upon the blue Gulf waters while listening to contented felons sing songs of the sea? Idyllic, no?

Of course, the county would have to buy a used launch to act as a tender, ferrying supplies, staff and visitors. Maintenance costs of the ship itself, though, would be minimal, as the prisoners could do the scraping and painting required to keep everything ship shape, as it were.

We could promote the new sailing slammer as a 'green' alternative to standard land-locked prisons, with its reduced carbon footprint, low overhead and humane environment for our incarcerated unfortunates. An upscale pokey for a decidedly upscale community.

Hurricane in the Gulf? No problem, hoist anchor and shove off to safe harborage. Need a dozen prisoners on shore to cut roadside weeds? Send out the tender.

What could possibly go wrong?

And the land where a new prison would have been built can be used for something really useful. Like a new parking garage.

Oh, not your great-great-great Grandad's prison ship:

but, this:

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